Cathexis Northwest Press
Letter To Rani Sharif
By: Benjamin Rose
And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
She stands before me as a living child.
Gul hui jaati hai afsurdah sulagti hui shaam,
Dhul ke niklegi abhi chasma'ee maahtaab se raat,
Aur mushtaaq nigaahon ki suni jaayegi,
Aur un haathon se mas honge, yeh tarse hue haath.
—Faiz Ahmad Faiz
Regarding a recollection of our conversation on 27 September 2020
About the long-delayed novel. Note: as to the wording of Stanza VII—consult
The remarks of Mr. Manzoor in the Evening Standard.
I would not say something so presumptuous on my own authority.
Over the fretboard, the sinister asks
A nameless boy for his prurient love.
Eager and wiry, fit to their task,
Through the progression your brown fingers move.
And in this American anthem sung
Over the sea from the golden-sheaved grain,
Far from the heartland, a pleasure is wrung
Deep from your dactyls’ hard-callused pain.
We two have lounged and spoken at length
Under the haze of your French cigarettes
‘Midst water and bourbon; tested our strength
In bearing the heart’s long-wasted regret;
Until you asked in that troublesome tongue
My tongue turns round in Nastaliq-like pains
And guttural rasps my unmannered throat
Has yet to accomplish—when shall I name
The fictional highway on which you ride
Your blue Kawasaki? Stern as the sea
‘Neath the moon’s influence, each day you bide
“Just a few days more”, enraged to be free
As that Marxist muse, who, in the despair
Of brow-beaten peasants drew such a fire
The gaol could not quench him. In the night air
Wherein the grass swirls, I hear your desire;
Hear, but no answer I gave you could sate
The wound of your hunger, balm the untruth—
O my Atonement!—Nor solve thy complaint
With vacuous oaths, and crocodile ruth.
A gora carves your circuitous script
To lend densely-plotted logic to prose
In myriad drafts, as if an eclipse
Auspicious as Hamza’s your birth foretold.
“Birth?” You say, in disbelief. “I know blood
Shed in the memory of bullet-bit trains
That crossed the black border. Voices you love
Bear in their cadence, the wretchedness, pain
Scourged by the wailing of Toba Tek Singh
Into the marrow marked by barbed wire.
Why do you hesitate? Why not begin?”
So said you, Sovereign, eyes lit with fire.
“Guilt” I replied to you, nothing concealed.
“No Anglican angst within my heart dwells,
Nor ancestral evil. The Ram’s horn peals
No more in the shtetl. The Zyklon Hell
Fed on my Belarusian kin, all those
Who could not escape; and now in Ukraine
The trembling flare, the Ruscists sick throws
Renew the schutzstaffel’s barbarous game.
The Black have their heroes, the White, their Queen;
The Brown man alone, the woman erased
Seethe in obscurity. Once you were kings;
Now Mo Salah has subsumed the prayer’s place.
And I, who stood by the solar and heard
The sound of al-Najm, saw you Submit,
And found myself, faithless, moved beyond words,
Breathe your blue banner—but I am unfit.
“I did not ask” you said, with high resolve
“When first from your sunken squalor I drew
Your hand to the page. I am your penance;
I am your patron, and payment is due
For each drop of verse and alchemic blood
The Road of Glass invented, and devised
Out of the rubbish and fracture of love,
The azure Psyche with awakened eyes.
“And if I fail?
“It would shame us both.”
“You will not.”
“I am afraid.”
“You’re no coward.
Now go, and make history, mate.”
Benjamin Rose is a poet born and raised in the D.C. area and the author of The Road Of Glass. His work has appeared in The Dillydoun Review, Beyond Words Literary Magazine, and Cathexis Northwest Press.
The “Letter To Rani Sharif” is directed to the intended protagonist of a novel I’ve wrestled with writing over the previous two years, and the piece grew specifically out of an attempt to articulate many concerns that had grounded the work in development hell with little to speak of beyond thin drafts and research. One of the central concerns was anxiety about writing a work predominantly although not exclusively focusing on characters of another race or culture than my own, which suffuses the poem in question. The poem itself grew on a whim after reading W.B. Yeats’s “Among School Children” and Victor Kiernan’s translation of Mauzu E Sukhan (“Poetry’s Theme”) by Faiz Ahmad Faiz in quick succession; the first four lines of Faiz’s work is quoted in romanized Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, above. To any native Urdu speaker unfortunate enough to have listened to the audio, pardon my pronunciation, I’m only a few weeks into learning.